TWO in three women have been victims of emotional abuse without even realising it, according to a survey by Cosmopolitan and Women’s Aid.
While physical abuse might be easier to spot, being on the receiving end of psychological abuse can be just as damaging – and this is reflected in the law.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 makes behaviour that is “controlling or coercive” towards another person in an intimate or family relationship punishable by a jail term of up to five years.
Today, sex and relationships expert Kate Taylor reveals the ten signs you could be living with a master manipulator.
1. YOUR DIARY IS EMPTY
IT’S normal to see friends and family less when you meet a new partner. But if you stop completely, it might be more sinister.
Relate counsellor Holly Roberts says: “Manipulators will suck your attention away from things that make you happy.” Make your own individual plans.
Holly says: “Don’t forget you need your own sense of self – keep doing things that make you feel good.”
2. YOU’RE FOREVER SAYING SORRY
“IF you find yourself apologising when you think the other person caused the problem, they’re manipulating you,” says therapist Cate Campbell.
“They’ll be incredibly affectionate and loving at first, then gradually introduce little criticisms, then apologise and go back to being loving.”
You might even have to apologise for your friends and family because it’s likely the manipulator won’t like them.
Cate adds: “They may see them in a negative light so that you begin to question your relationships.”
3. BRINGING OTHERS INTO ROWS
THE psychology term “triangulation” means bringing an outside person into an argument. Holly says: “Manipulators might bring children into it.
They’ll say, ‘Isn’t Daddy silly?’ to undermine the other parent’s authority.
“Instead of trying to see why they do it, just tell the manipulator how it makes you feel. This is non-confrontational and helps you keep track of your emotions.”
4. YOU FEEL FORGETFUL OR SCATTY
“EARLY in the relationship, manipulators will sense if you’re easily swayed,” says Holly.
“Later, they’ll use it to their advantage by making you doubt your own memory of events.
“They might deny things – ‘I never said that!’ – until you give up. Soon, you won’t trust your judgment and will be reliant on the manipulator. Try opening up to friends or keeping a note of conversations.”
5. THEY GO QUIET, A LOT
HAVING a five-minute sulk after a row is normal, but it’s manipulation when they cut off communication completely.
A manipulator will go silent with the sole aim of prolonging the argument, until you apologise first.
The best way to handle this is to invite the manipulator to behave in a different way.
Holly says: “Ask your partner what they need to feel better, whether that’s a break, or to postpone the conversation. If they’re still silent, verbalise how it makes you feel. Even say, ‘I feel manipulated’.”
6. THEY’RE OVERLY GENEROUS
MANIPULATORS will often use money to get power. This might be financial abuse – where you’re cut off from having money of your own.
Holly says: “A manipulator might insist on paying for dinner, so they get to decide where you eat. Or they’ll take over all the direct debits and bills.”
Break this dynamic by insisting you want to contribute.
Holly says: “Calmly state you’d like to buy dinner next time, or go halves.”
7. YOU’RE THE BUTT OF JOKES
OFTEN manipulators publicly shame their victims in group situations, in front of the kids or over social media.
Holly says: “Manipulators try to create a hierarchy of power.
“They make fun of you in public to deflect negative attention from them and their faults. They are highly self-critical and self-conscious. Tell your manipulator very clearly that you don’t like these jokes and want them to stop.”
8. THEIR ROMANTIC GESTURES MAKE YOU FEEL GUILTY
MANIPULATIVE people often appear very caring at first.
Cate says: “They are initially unbelievably generous, making you feel cared for and safe. But this can turn into control, so you end up doing nothing for yourself.”
If you find yourself being loved to the point of smothering, Cate says you should speak up.
She adds: “Don’t let someone take over responsibility for aspects of your life, however kind they seem.”
9. NOTHING IS THEIR FAULT
MANIPULATORS love playing the victim. The kinder and more warm-hearted you are, the more they’ll spin a sob story to make you do what they want.
Holly says: “A manipulator can twist anything to sound like it was done TO them.”
Next time the manipulator starts making you feel guilty, Holly advises: “Find a balanced perspective to understand how you may have contributed to an argument – helping them to agree to disagree might defuse a stressful situation.”
10. YOU WANT APPROVAL
AFTER showering you with affection at the start of the relationship, a manipulator might withdraw it later, or become unpredictable.
Chartered psychologist Dr Audrey Tang says: “This unpredictable positive reinforcement, which is termed ‘breadcrumbing’, will often be enough to keep you ‘on side’ when red flags appear.”
Should you stay? Dr Audrey says no. “If you are able to leave, do so,” she advises. “Cut off contact so that you are not seduced back.”
HOW TO ESCAPE THIS ABUSE
KAT WILSON, of the charity Women’s Aid, says:
"IN an abusive relationship the first step is to talk to someone you trust. Abusers hope to cut you off from support networks to gain more control.
"There is no “correct” time or way to end an abusive relationship, only when you feel ready. There are practical things to consider when leaving – do you have somewhere safe to go? Do you need help finding safe accommodation?
"Is there a time when you can leave without the perpetrator’s knowledge? Can you pack a bag of essentials in case you need to leave quickly?
"Contact us at Women’s Aid via our Live Chat service. We have qualified female staff who can talk to you in confidence."
- See womensaid.org.uk for more help.
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